Songs of Frogs and Toads
Nature Bulletin No. 262-A March 25, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
SONGS OF FROGS AND TOADS
A red letter day on the calendar, each year, is when the first cricket frog
is heard, or the first spring peeper -- "some prophet bolder than all the
rest", Soon he is joined by others of his own kind, and then by other
kinds until, in May, "there is a shrill musical uproar in every marsh and
bog in the land". To the native of river bottomlands and marshes, or a
countryside with prairie ponds and woodland pools, there is no sweeter
music than the choruses of frogs and toads in spring. On warm nights,
on rainy or cloudy days, even in bright sunlight, they join in an off-key
clamor until the air fairly throbs with sound.
In the United States we have almost a hundred different sorts of these
amphibian performers; each singing his own distinctive solo; each
announcing to the laggard females of his kind that "Spring is here!"
Their calls are difficult to describe or compare with other sounds. They
may cheep like baby chicks, rattle like marbles in a tin can, trill like
birds, quack like ducks, mew like cats, bark like dogs, bellow like a
bull, or snore like a man -- according to the species.
The distinctive mating call of the male usually is made by pushing air
out of the lungs into the mouth and, from there, through an opening on
each side of the tongue to inflate the balloon-like sac or sacs which
serve as a resonator. This gives more volume to the sound which is
made by the air passing over vocal cords in the throat, As the animal
rhythmically pumps away, the throat sac swells and collapses like a toy
balloon, or like a wad of bubble-gum from the mouth of a small boy.
Some kinds have a sac on either side of the head. With some, like the
Gopher Frog, the whole body swells. This singing is always done with
the mouth closed and some kinds, notably the pickerel frog, can even
croak under water. In general, all male frogs have voices but, in some
kinds, the females can "talk", squawk or scream. Almost any frog can
squeal or give a "mercy" cry if seized or frightened.
Around Chicago in March, soon after the ice is gone, the inch-long
Cricket Frogs come out of hibernation and chirp by the hundreds and
thousands in lakes, ponds and pools. Their chorus is a crackling rattle
like a multitude of those metal "crickets" that come as prizes in boxes
of crackerjack, and halts abruptly at the least sign of danger.
The Tiny Spring Peepers usually appear a little later and reach full
voice after the water has warmed above 50 degrees F. Its call is a series
of 20 or 30 shrill whistles pitched about two octaves above middle C,
The Wood Frogs gather in woodland pools where the males each make
a series of 2 to 6 short snappy "clacks" which, in a group, sound like
ducks quacking. The Green Frog gives a single "Tchung" or 3 to 6 deep
notes like the plucked strings of a bass vial. The Pickerel Frog has a
gentle musical "snore", often made under water. The Leopard Frog
utters a long quavering guttural note followed by a few short grunts.
The deep bass roar of the Bullfrog, not heard until late May or June, has
been described as saying "jug-o'-rum, jug-o'-rum", or "belly deep, belly
deep", according to the listener's fancy.
Toads, too, sing love songs after they leave their winter burrows and
congregate in ponds to breed. The common American Toads, in late
April or May, form choruses of long-sustained high-pitched trills. Later,
the doleful nasal screech of Fowler's Toad can be heard. Most musical
of all is the little Tree Frog or Tree Toad, gray or green with orange
thighs. Their melodious trills, from the tree tops, are often mistaken for
the songs of birds.
Clackety clack! Peep, peep! Glug, glug! Alleluia!
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012